By the Numbers: Andersonville National Historic Site

Like more than 400 other graves containing unidentified remains of prisoners who died at Camp Sumter, #7398 bears an inscription that simply reads "Unknown U.S. Soldier." Photo by divemasterking200 via Flickr.

Andersonville National Historic Site in southwest Georgia preserves and interprets the remains of Camp Sumter (aka Andersonville), the Civil War's deadliest prisoner of war camp. The park was established in 1970 to preserve the prison site, interpret the historic role of POW camps, commemorate the sacrifice of Americans who died in such camps, and administer Andersonville National Cemetery. The park's National Prisoner of War Museum was opened in 1998 to tell the story of POWs throughout American history. Here are some meaningful numbers.

136,267

Recreational visits in 2009. Although visitation peaked at 229,000 in 1977, and has not topped 200,000 since 1998, a significant increase can be expected during the Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration (2011-2015).

45,000+

Union prisoners confined in Camp Sumter during its 14 months of operation, beginning in February 1864. Camp Sumter's mission was to handle the overflow from crowded Confederate prisons located in and near Richmond, Virginia.

~20,000

Number of burials in Andersonville National Cemetery, one of only two National Park Service-administered National Cemeteries still classified as open. (The other is Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.) There are about 150 internments annually at Andersonville National Cemetery.

~12,920

Union prisoners who died at Camp Sumter. That's about 40% of all the deaths in Confederate-run prisons . The death rate at Camp Sumter averaged over 100 a day in August 1864 when the prisoner population peaked at around 32,000 and the men suffered horribly from overcrowding, poor sanitation, malnourishment, diarrhea, disease, and exposure to the elements.

~460

Graves marked "unknown U.S. soldier" at Andersonville National Cemetery. In an age before dog tags, dental records, and DNA testing, identifying a dead soldier and keeping track of his remains could be dismayingly difficult and error-prone. At Camp Sumter, where thousands of dead POWs were hastily buried under chaotic conditions, the official death records were poorly kept and nearly unusable. Fortunately, when Clara Barton supervised the marking of Andersonville graves in July 1865 she had the use of a "Death List" secretly kept by POW Dorence Atwater.

329

Number of prisoners who escaped from Camp Sumter and made it back to Union lines. Most prisoners who successfully escaped were already outside the stockade wall by virtue of a detail assignment or parole.

26.5

Acreage of Camp Sumter. Initially 16.5 acres in size, the camp was soon expanded by 10 acres to accommodate a much larger number of prisoners than originally anticipated.

24

Number of monuments at the prison site and Andersonville National Cemetery. Between 1899 and 1916, many northern states erected monuments in memory of prisoners who died at Camp Sumter. Other monuments commemorate the preservation efforts of the National Woman's Relief Corp, a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) auxiliary organization . Because so little remains of the historic prison, monuments form a prominent part of Andersonville's physical and emotional landscape.

19 feet

Approximate distance from the 15-foot high stockade wall to the "dead line," a light fence constructed to demarcate a no-man's land that prisoners were forbidden to enter. Prisoners who crossed the dead line were shot by sentries.

8 feet

Height of the “Sack of Cement Cross,” the largest artifact in the park's National Prisoner of War Museum. During World War II, American prisoners at Japanese-run Camp O’Donnell in the Philippines built the cross as a memorial to fellow prisoners who died in the camp.

1

Confederate official punished for war crimes committed at Camp Sumter. Camp commander Henry Wirz was convicted of murder and hanged on November 10, 1865. Captain Wirz was the only Confederate officer executed for war crimes committed during the Civil War.

Postscript
: While Camp Sumter is an eternal stain on the Confederacy's honor, it remains that many thousands of Confederate prisoners received lethally bad treatment at the hands of their Federal captors. At Camp Douglas in Illinois, for example, prisoners living in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions were given minimal medical treatment, savagely punished for minor infractions, intentionally starved, and exposed to harsh weather without adequate shelter or clothing. (They died at an appalling rate, too. A monument that Confederate veterans erected there reads: ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF SIX THOUSAND SOUTHERN SOLDIERS HERE BURIED WHO DIED IN CAMP DOUGLAS PRISON 1862-5.) Conditions at New York's Camp Elmira (aka Camp Rathbun), which has been called the Union counterpart of Andersonville, were reportedly even worse. Perhaps not surprisingly, no punishment was levied on the perpetrators of war crimes against Confederate prisoners.

Comments

Andersonville is, to this day, the saddest NPS site I have ever visited. The tales in the POW museum are so hard to fathom.

It is vitally important that this site preserves the memory of all the world's POWs. I hope, at some point, it will tell the story of Guantanamo and how this country reverted back to torture and illegal captivity.

The stories of our nation's darkness needs to be told, just like stories of our triumphs.